An IDC Analysis

(With inputs from Sayan Majumdar)


New Delhi, 19 July 2004

It is now somewhat certain that in not-to-distant future the French designed Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 aircraft will shoulder the responsibility of our manned airborne nuclear deterrent. The French success in operating Mirage 2000Ns in a nuclear strike role obviously impressed the Indian Air Force (IAF) officials. The Mirage 2000 is inherently well suited to the task. The fly-by-wire controls and small canard type foreplanes on the air intake trunks of Mirage 2000 allow it to secure the advantages of a delta platform, especially in terms of high fuel storage, increased manoeuvrability, less control surfaces and low Radar Cross Section (RCS). Again instabilities that arise during low-altitude penetration with significant payloads are minimised.

The Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controls provided the Mirage 2000 fleet remarkable manoeuvrability as well as resistance to high-G. Thus the Mirage 2000N fleets are capable of flying fast and low, deliver ordnances to targets with a high degree of accuracy and capable of destroying opposing fighters on the way back. In L'Armee de l’Air (French Air Force) service the Mirage 2000N are equipped with 600 kg CEA AN-52 “free fall” nuclear bombs of conventional shape with cruciform tailfins. The AN-52 bomb attached to the fuselage center pylon has a nuclear yield of 14 to 18 kilotons. Mirage 2000N is also configured to carry the 300 kilometre ranged ASMP (Air/Sol Moyenne Portee) “stand-off” nuclear missile to cover the last lap of heavily defended airspace. The ASMP is around 5 metres long and weighs 900 kg.

Possibly from the very start the IAF judiciously decided to convert some of its Mirage 2000H/TH for the nuclear strike role without fanfare. They thus became “dual-capable” platforms providing the more flexible arm of the newly created Indian Strategic Forces Command. Capable of delivering a punishing "second strike" on any potential rogue nuclear aggressor, the manned airborne platforms are also capable of delivering a "pre-emptive strike" on enemy nuclear arsenals or their communication, command and control nodes, to disable them from launching a "first strike" on Indian forces or homeland. A strike aircraft also enjoys the flexibility of reassigning target points enroute and collecting “first-hand” battle damage assessment. They can also be “recalled” if the situation demands. Nuclear strike aircrafts are again inherently “dual-use” platforms and thus valuable even in a conventional attack scenario.

As the IAF started converting the Mirage 2000, the standard livery generally associated with air defence variants changed to "camouflage" external body paint. It was widely rumoured that Antilope 5 terrain-following radar, similar to one fitted on French Mirage 2000N nuclear strike platforms, had been installed on IAF Mirage 2000H/TH along with reinforced radomes and twin Inertial Navigation System (INS). Optimum performance during nap-of-the-earth penetration of enemy airspace and strike is thus facilitated, powered by a single yet excellent SNECMA M-53-P2 engine. For self-protection, a comprehensive Electronic Support Measures/Electronic Counter Measures (ESM/ECM) suite backs the formidable defensive weaponry of Magic 2 Within Visual Range (WVR) Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM) and Super 530D Beyond Visual Range (BVR) AAMs.

To augment its present two squadrons of Mirage 2000H/TH, based in Gwalior, the IAF had ordered 10 additional Mirage 2000H/THs and more importantly was considering mass procurement and license production of the more advanced Mirage 2000-5 Mk2.

Optimised for true multi-role missions, Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 is equipped with Thales RDY multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar and incorporates Advanced Pilot/System Interface (APSI) in having a "glass cockpit" with ‘Hand-On-Throttle and Stick’ (HOTAS) and colour Multi-Function Displays (MFD). One of the MFD is "head-level" for tactical situational awareness that displays processed information from sensors and systems, which may be flashed, on Head Up Display (HUD) if necessary. Equipped with an integrated countermeasures suite and multi-function data link, a night and adverse weather capability is provided by Thales Nahar Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) radar. Surface strike capability will be greatly enhanced if an Israeli Litening 2 pod is integrated.

Since the Mirage 2000-5Mk2 may primarily emphasise delivery of nuclear ordnance, they should be customized to carry the features of the French 4+ generation Dassault Rafale close-couple canard/delta multi-role strike fighter. These should include variations of Radar a Balayage Electronique (RBE-2) multi-mode radar, Optronics Secteur Frontale (Front Sector Optronics) (OSF), Spectra self-protection suite and MIDS tactical data link.

The multi-mode phased array RBE-2 radar has a range of 100 kilometres even in look-down mode and significantly greater range in look-level and look-up modes. Tracking parameters are comparable and at least four targets can be engaged simultaneously. The radar has growth potential and after full development will be capable of terrain avoiding at the same time as it scans for potential air threats.

This last mentioned feature will ensure that while on strike missions the IAF Mirage 2000-5 Mk2s will be capable of self-protection especially in the successful post-attack scenario when the strike platforms have advertised their presence and need protection from enemy air-combat fighters. Front Sector Optronics (OSF) consisting of Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST), Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) and Laser Range Finding backs the radar and also assist the strike platform for successful nocturnal missions.

For surface strike missions, apart from carrying standard nuclear and conventional gravity bombs the aircraft should be capable of carrying MBDA SCALP/Storm Shadow stand-off missiles. With a range of 400 km the Israeli Delilah modular stand-off strike weapon should be another option. Also compatible should be Israeli MSOV, an air-to-ground stand off modular glide dispenser. In addition Indo-Russian consortium should develop an extended-range BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) to increase the operational effectiveness of our Mirage 2000-5 Mk2 fleet and shield them from heaviest enemy ground-based defences.

Additionally the IAF should look for a dedicated ECM Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) variant of the Mirage 2000 to accompany the “airborne strike packages” to ensure survivability. Where possible, AWACS platforms should be applied to guide the "airborne strike packages" in avoiding the enemy air defence platforms and installations. Safe ingress and egress are thus facilitated.

The IAF Sukhoi-30MKI will provide the "top cover" while penetrating heavily defended airspace and will escort the strike fleet of Mirage 2000-5s. The airframes and engines of Sukhoi-30MKI are optimised for operations in medium to high altitudes, although their advanced avionics permit them to mount nuclear strike if situation demands. One of Sukhoi-30MKIs vital role in this type of mission will be destruction of ultra-high-value enemy airborne platforms like Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), In-Flight Refuelling (IFR) and Long Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) platforms without necessarily first have to deal with their fighter escorts using the resurrected Russian Novator R-172 ultra-long-range AAM. Russian officials have now confirmed the R-172 designation. In addition option should be left open to integrate MBDA Meteor BVR AAM to the fleet of Sukhoi-30s.

Meteor is capable of engaging air targets autonomously, whether fighters, bombers, transport aircraft, AWACS or cruise missiles by using its active radar seeker by day or night and in all weather or dense Electronic Warfare (EW) environments. Meteor’s solid fuel variable-flow rocket/ramjet propulsion system will ensure a range in excess of 100 km and a speed of more than Mach 4 and high terminal velocity. Even when launched from extreme stand-off ranges, the missile will have the energy in the end game to defeat fast, manoeuvring targets. To ensure total target destruction, the missile is equipped with both proximity and impact fuses and a fragmentation warhead that is detonated at the optimum point to maximise lethality. Guidance is ISN, two-way datalink and active Ku-band radar seeker. It can receive targeting data after launch from the launching fighter, another fighter, or AWACS platforms. The two-way data-link partially solves the IFF problem at long ranges.

While the IAF Mirage 2000, Jaguar and Sukhoi-30 fleets are all capable of reaching every military, commercial and industrial target of Pakistan, their capability of reaching every military, commercial and industrial target of China remains limited especially if under conditions of conflict the Chinese Air Force relocates additional fighter squadrons sensors and air defence weaponry to Chinese Chengdu and Lanzhau military regions, to force the IAF to follow a “lo-lo-lo” flight profile to ensure survivability.

Thus for tactical deployment an optimum combination of Illyushin-78MKI IFR tankers with “combat-rated” drop-tanks need to be utilised. IFR tankers like Illyushin-78MKI "Midas" will extend the endurance and loiter time of Sukhoi-30MKIs operating in the air defence role. But how effective it will be in extending the range of IAF Mirage 2000, Jaguar and Sukhoi-30 fleets in strike missions depends upon certain factors. In-flight refueling takes place in high to medium altitudes, and near the political border often in full view of enemy radar. Thus unless local air superiority can be established in "sensitive" areas, in-flight refueling needs to be conducted well within ones own airspace especially when confronting a powerful adversary.” However IFR will enable the IAF “airborne strike packages” to be based in safer “centrally located” air bases and refueled prior entering the enemy airspace thus optimally utilising the maximum range and reach. Once over the enemy airspace the “airborne strike packages” have to rely more on “combat-rated” drop-tanks of various sizes. Moreover the IAF in active collaboration with United States, Russia and Israel should secure basing rights in West, Central and East Asia so to carry on “one-way” missions on various fronts to extend its reach. This aspect needs diplomatic skills on the part of both IAF and the Indian Government.

A strong force of manned airborne platforms for nuclear strike missions are needed for flexibility of our nuclear doctrine. Although from an idealistic point of view, "no first use" seems to be the desirable option, ground realities especially in dealing with a rouge and bullish nuclear adversary may force us to change our stand. The option of a "pre-emptive strike" should be kept open with adequate sensors and intelligence machinery deployed to intercept an enemy's attempt to launch a "first strike".

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